Taking Apart Tech CEOs

By Eric Lundquist  |  Posted 2003-04-14

Taking Apart Tech CEOs

What a week! I spent most of it flying about the country talking with some of the top vendor CEOs in the tech business. In three days, I had the chance to sit down with John Chambers, Hector Ruiz, Bob Beauchamp and Bruce Claflin. While well be carrying their individual interviews in eWeek print and online over the next several weeks, Ive decided that, just like Dr. Frankenstein, I can assemble the modern technology executive from a few key parts.

The mea culpa. This is a key idea. In the past, executives were always quick to take credit for success and foist blame for failures on some group of (usually recently fired) past management teams. This is no longer the case. Now, theyre all willing to say they made some bets that failed and are now moving on. This is refreshing and probably a sign of maturity. For the exec less inclined to speak

Latin, you can replace "mea culpa" with "mistakes were made."

The almighty customer. OK, customers are important; I will agree with that. The decline and fall of the dot-com era was littered with companies producing products that no one would buy. Now every conversation starts with what customers are saying, the substantial power now being wielded by the customer, or the need to vet new ideas and services through the customer filter.

Without a doubt, the customer orientation will allow you to bring important improvements to your current product line. What could be missed are the products that customers dont know they need but are great ideas that need corporate muscle to make happen. The history of the Sony Walkman (www.sony.net/Fun/SH) isnt one of focus groups and point release improvements but of a revolutionary product built from a single idea. Maybe we are simply in an economic trough when big bets are being pulled off the table. There are plenty of solid product upgrades available, as we found in last weeks eWeek Excellence Awards. Theres nothing wrong with that, but Ill mark the return of the technology-driven marketplace with the advent of several unique and great products all at once.

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Ill give Ciscos John Chambers the top grade in not only valuing customers but also in being the most succinct in explaining the role of IT in todays economy: "IT enables the implementation of a strategy." And Ill also bet Cisco realizes that all those wireless hot spots, when married with voice over IP, would give rise to a breakthrough product. Ill give BMCs Bob Beauchamp the award for the top exec trying to make the newest technology part of his daily routine. During an interview with Beauchamp at the companys Houston headquarters, he was not only carrying a Tablet PC but actually using it as well. Not only that, but he was enjoying it, too.

The burden of real estate. There is no better evidence of past overzealous expansion than half-empty and fully empty buildings bearing your companys logo. There are lots of examples of this around, and I have to wonder about the occupancy rate of all those Cisco buildings concentrated in one area of Tasman Drive in San Jose. Todays CEO needs to know a great real estate agent.

Going for the three-pointer. Gone are the days of predicting double-digit growth. Now simply beating the 3 percent growth of the gross national product is success. Beating it by two points is good, and hitting a three-point shot from the outside is great. The leader of these new tech realist planners is 3Coms Bruce Claflin, who says upfront "I was wrong" in planning for a big tech rebound but instead has restructured the company for a slower, but steady, beating of the GNP.

Despite the tough times, CEO hyperbole lives. Ill give AMDs Hector Ruiz the award for being the most unequivocal in explaining how important each new product launch is to a company in these economically constrained times. Is the upcoming Opteron launch from AMD one of the most important launches from the company? No, it is more than that. "Opteron is the most important product launch ever from AMD," said Ruiz.

And as a final note, in the one-invitation-I-think-Ill-pass-up category: Thanks to Beauchamp for filling me in on the Great Texas Mosquito Festival to be held in Clute in July (mosquitofestival.com/history.html), but Ill be happy to swat those much smaller, less ferocious Boston bugs rather than take on the Texas-size skeeters.

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